Facts about our olfactory sense - Deepstash

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Our Mind-Boggling Sense of Smell - Issue 91: The Amazing Brain - Nautilus

Facts about our olfactory sense

  • It is different from other sensory cortices in a way that it has a multidimensional stimulus.
  • Some things can smell different not just between different people but also for the same person.
  • Can measure an array of an uncertain variety of chemicals that can trace changes that detects pleasure, pain, or danger.
  • It does not require a map mirroring because its chemical stimulus is constantly changing. It relies on the brain to recognize the pattern or memory associated with the smell.

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Our Sense Of Smell And Our Memories
Our Sense Of Smell And Our Memories

Certain smells that are associated in our minds to events or locations from the past, trigger our memories to revisit them. This association of the past through the sense of smell works better and is more vivid than the sense of touch or sight.

Example: Smelling the pages of a new book may remind us of late-night reading as a kid.

The Memory Association

According to a 2004 research, the sense of smell is a complicated process.

  • The olfactory receptor cells send a neuron signal to a part of our brain which is called the olfactory bulb.
  • This multistep process which involves over a thousand genes and the nerves connect to the amygdala of the brain, the area responsible for processing emotions.
  • It also connects to the memory and cognition area called the hippocampus, forming the association.
Our sleep-wake pattern

Our molecular clock inside our cells aims to keep us in sync with the sun

When we disregard this circadian rhythm, we are at a greater risk for illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and dementia.

The lifestyle imbalance

Thomas Edison said that sleep is "a bad habit." Like Edison, we seem to think of sleep as an adversary and try to fight it at every turn. The average American sleeps less than the recommended seven hours per night, mostly due to electric lights, television, computers, and smartphones. 

However, we are ignoring the intricate journey we're designed to take when we sleep.

Stage One Sleep

When we fall asleep, the nearly 86 billion neurons in our brain starts to fire evenly and rhythmically. Our sensory receptors become muffled at the same time.

The first stage of shallow sleep lasts for about 5 minutes.

How smell works
How smell works
  • Odour molecules that move through the air up your nostrils will bind to special smell receptors on the surface of nerve cells.
  • The nerve cells send a signal to the brain's olfactory bulb, that is behind the bridge of the nose.
  • People have about 400 different smell receptor types.
  • The odour molecules create a pattern of activation in the nerve cells that the brain translates as a smell.
How we react to certain smells
  • Smells can alert us about danger - we're repulsed by the smell of sewage and rotting food.
  • We don't all respond to odour molecules in the same way.
  • Butyric acid contributes to the smell of both Parmesan cheese and vomit, so it may smell offputting or appealing, depending on the situation.
When we lose our sense of smell

A complete loss of smell, known as anosmia, can occur after a cold, sinus infection or even a bump to the head.

Anosmia affects the flavour of food. However, it isn't always permanent and may recover naturally or through exercises like 'smell training' to re-stimulate the olfactory system.